Pelindaba Lavender is a premier grower of lavender plants, distiller of lavender essential oils and handcrafter of lavender-based products.
On our beautiful farm on San Juan Island, we undertake these activities in accordance with the highest environmental, healthy living and aesthetic standards.
We cultivate all our lavender flowers in our own organically certified fields and extract the essential oils from these flowers in our own on-site distillery. From these flowers and essential oils, we handcraft on-site a wide range of botanical, culinary, personal care, therapeutic, household & pet care products — all based on lavender’s extraordinary array of natural properties that have been in use for several millennia.
This vertically integrated model of sustainable agriculture, product development and marketing enables us to preserve the farmland from further development, create employment opportunities for our fellow islanders, provide a destination of natural beauty for islanders and visitors alike, and, last but not least, bring greater awareness to all of lavender as a completely natural and safe alternative to the potentially harmful synthetics used in many spheres of modern daily living.
We believe that these endeavors, pursued with integrity and passion, will provide ample satisfaction in both human and economic terms, and will do full justice to our name...
Pelindaba - “Place of Great Gatherings”
An Open-Space Preservation Project... That’s what started it all. A simple plan to protect a quiet valley property on San Juan Island – off the northwest coast of Washington state, between the mainland and Vancouver Island.
Rather than just passively protecting it from residential development, retired physician owner-founder Stephen Robins wanted to share the open space with other residents and island visitors, and to make it self-sustaining by making it productive as well as enhancing its natural beauty.Thus was born “PELINDABA”, a Zulu word that hearkened back to Stephen’s South African roots and which can be translated as “PLACE OF GREAT GATHERINGS” — a name that incorporates the two key elements of the original concept — great gatherings of crops & great gatherings of people.
1998 – The Original Plan : Open Space Preservation
Simply to improve the appearance of the property by removing derelict outbuildings and fences and then planting the fields with a non-invasive, self-maintaining, physically attractive crop that would enhance the natural beauty of the landscape.
Seeking a crop that would satisfy several criteria – unique on the island, low water and fertilizer needs, and just as importantly one with a discernable path to economic viability – we eventually arrive at lavender and a simple plan – plant a small field and sell the crop to others to do with as they wished.
1999 – Execution
After considerable research, we prepare the fields, source and plant approximately 2,500 lavender starts, nurture them carefully and then hold our breath — which turns out to be quite unnecessary. The plants “take” spectacularly, and we are on our way.
2000 – Transformation
Encouraged, we plant another 5,000 plants. The same year, however, unanticipated changes in the market economics of lavender raw materials determine that we will have to go well beyond the modest limitations of the initial plan if we are ever to become economically sustainable. In a nutshell, we will have to become our own customers, so to speak, and venture into value-added lavender product handcrafting for ourselves.
Building our own Production Center and developing our own formulas, recipes and procedures, allow us to retain full product value within the venture. Doing so on the farm itself helps distinguish us from many others, not least in allowing us to further affirm our focus on quality by knowing intimately our source of flowers, buds and essential oil – our own organically certified fields!
It also allows us to extend the concept of locally sustainable agriculture by providing local employment opportunities for island-based handcrafters and artists.
This choice of a handcrafting rather than the less expensive mechanized manufacturing model for making products has its obvious downside however. We will have to sell the products ourselves through our own retail outlets rather than wholesale them to others – at least until we attain greater size and can recognize adequate economies of scale.
2001 – Opening to the Public
After two years of research and preparation, on 30 June 2001 we open our first store — The Gatehouse — as an on-farm Gift Store and Nursery. Committed at the same time to educating the public, we add a Demonstration Garden with more than 50 lavender cultivars demonstrating the wide diversity of this extraordinary plant genus.
In concert again with our original purpose, we also open up the fields for visitors to wander through and enjoy the vistas of lush rows of flowering fragrant plants. We add additional picnic facilities and also make the lawns and fields available for community and private functions, including weddings.
We also invite painters and photographers to paint and photograph for their artistic endeavors as and when they wish (never locking our gates) and for sculptors to exhibit their works.
2002 – Expanding our educational offerings
By popular demand, we start conducting frequent docent-guided tours for farm visitors as well as more programmatically for groups such as Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). We also host the first of our annual free-admission San Juan Island Lavender Festivals, with demonstrations, talks and workshops, accompanied by music, children’s activities, food and refreshments.
We complement these further by developing self-tour facilities with signage in key locations on the farm. Away from the farm, we actively support and help expand the concept of economically viable sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices throughout the County by giving talks to community and service groups, participating in the island’s Farmer’s Market, and mounting educational displays at the annual San Juan County Fair.
2003 – Website Upgrading
To accommodate our rapid growth in product sales, fueled by word of mouth and favorable press alike, we find we need to redesign our relatively primitive original website to better handle customer service and product fulfillment through our on-line store.
2004 – First Off-Farm Retail Presence
In response to popular demand, Pelindaba Lavender Friday Harbor opens in May in Friday Harbor as a hybrid Product Gallery and Refreshment Place. Being in the Pacific Northwest, we soon are obliged to add coffee to our initial offerings of Lavender teas. Lavender baked goods – both sweet and savory – are also offered, all made ourselves in our newly completed custom-built commercially certified Kitchen & Bakery at the farm.
To support the continuing growth in demand for our products, we plant another 8,000 plants and upgrade our distillation capacity by installing a 50-gallon still.
2005 – Pelindaba Lavender Friday Harbor as Gathering Place and Events Forum
With the addition of light lunches and suppers, the location becomes even more popular as an away-from-the-farm extension of the Gathering Place concept. It also becomes an island cultural haven, hosting book readings, musical and theatrical events, special interest forums, and film evenings.
2006 – Farming Activities Expand
Continuing to pace our growth, we plant another 4,000 plants.
2007 – Pelindaba Expands Off-island
Having thoroughly affirmed the appeal of our product line on the island, we decide to test its appeal elsewhere by opening Pelindaba Lavender Seattle in the heart of the city’s retail core.
The positive results of this test soon signal that we are ready for the next phase of growth. Having steadily increased our plantings over the years, we now add a further 6,000 plants to bring our total to approximately 25,000. Having also significantly enhanced our distillation and production facilities and methodologies, we have laid a solid foundation for what we now come to envision as a wider geographic expansion. While growth for its own sake is not our objective, we determine that this expansion will help secure the sustainability of the overall project.
2008 – Pelindaba Lavender Bellevue Square, Washington
This, the last in our trial program of retail outlet models in a variety of settings – farm, small town retail area, major city retail core, and now upscale regional mall – further establishes the viability of our retail expansion program concept as it draws many accolades.
2009 – Fire !
And then, in an early morning major conflagration, our entire administration, production, and inventory facilities burn to the ground from a fire apparently originating from the simple malfunction of a domestic clothes dryer. Pausing for perhaps two heartbeats, we rapidly secure temporary space and are up and running within a few weeks, all our data having being successfully backed up off-site. The fields and Gatehouse are unaffected, but as we need to replace our still, we build a new distillery with much greater capacity than previously, and commence construction of a new building to house our Administration, Production and Inventory activities — 14,000 square feet vs, the original 6,300.
A strategic review leads us to allowing the lease on the café/restaurant component of Pelindaba Lavender Friday Harbor to expire, but renewing the lease for the Product Gallery component. Popular and rewarding as the café/restaurant has become in many ways for many people, we decide to concentrate our efforts more fully on the expansion of our core lavender farming and product production enterprise.
2010 – Visitor Center
Behind the Gatehouse and adjacent to the new Distillery, we add a comprehensive exhibit area with panels, displays and video monitors to further enhance the educational experience of a farm visit. Recorded audio tours are subsequently made available to provide in-depth narrations as visitors wander the grounds, and the ever-popular lavender craft workshops from the festival are now offered in the new Visitor Center throughout the summer.
Allowing the leases of our two pilot off-island stores in Seattle and Bellevue to run out in the Spring, we close those stores and enter into a handful of limited term licensing arrangements as a trial exercise to learn how best to partner with others in expanding the world of Pelindaba. Having served their purpose, we allow them to lapse at the end of their various terms to make way for a future franchising program.
On the farming side, we harvest yet another bumper crop, and the new distillery allows us to dramatically improve the efficiency of our essential oil distillation operations.
2012 – Pelindaba Lavender La Conner, Washington
Though not originally in the plan, at her request we take over the product gallery originally opened by one of our employees who took out a Pelindaba Lavender retail license for the historic downtown area of La Conner, Washington, not far from the ferry to San Juan Island in March 2012. This provides us with a new mainland demonstration store as we begin to develop the infrastructure for our future franchising program, building further on the experience of our licensing trial program.
2014-15 – Pelindaba Lavender Franchising
We are approached by and then consult with franchising experts, develop a detailed Franchising Plan, and proceed with the further scale-up of our Production systems and farming operations.
2016 – Pelindaba Lavender Bainbridge Island, Washington
While waiting patiently for our frustratingly unproductive franchising consultants to link us up with franchise candidates, in May 2016 we decide to open another new store and product gallery, this time in the tourism-heavy downtown area of Bainbridge Island, Washington. The close proximity to the mainland ferry provides us with an additional demonstration store in close proximity to downtown Seattle.
2016 – Pelindaba Lavender Manitou Springs, Colorado
The opening of a new franchise store and product gallery in Manitou Springs, at the foot of the Pikes Peak Cog Railway in October 2016 begins our retail expansion beyond Washington State.
2017 – Pelindaba Lavender Amelia Island, Florida
Looking to have more franchise stores open in parts of the country whose opposite tourism seasons provide the opportunity to smooth out our huge product sales swings — hyperactive summers yet somnolent winters — prime us for the arrival of a new franchisee in the historic downtown of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in March 2017, thereby representing the first retail location on the East Coast.
2017 – Pelindaba Lavender Edmonds, Washington
A month later, challenging our logistics acrobatic prowess, we open another location this time closer to home in the very heart of downtown Edmonds in April 2017 that can serve the additional purpose of a north Seattle and mid-Puget Sound showroom for potential franchisees.
2018 – Pelindaba Lavender St. Augustine, Florida
Pleased with their performance in their first year of operation, the Amelia Island franchisee opens a second location in the heart of nearby St. Augustine, the oldest city in the US, in June 2018 and one of the most heavily visited destinations in north Florida.
2018 – Pelindaba Lavender Ashland, Oregon
The opening of a new franchise store and product gallery in downtown Ashland, home of the annual Oregon Shakespeare Festival, in July 2018 represents the continued retail expansion in the greater Pacific Northwest.
2018 – Pelindaba Lavender Sarasota, Florida
After a difficult experiment with a hybrid corporate/franchisee retail model in downtown Sarasota, FL a new franchisee takes over and (in 2019) moves the location to St Armands Circle, one of the prime retail shopping areas of South Florida.
2019 – Pelindaba Lavender Savannah, Georgia
May 2019 sees the continued retail expansion in the Southeast with a new franchisee in downtown Savannah, another destination highly popular with tourists.
2020 – A Year of Challenges
As a year of challenges greeted the world and Pelindaba alike, the opportunity to evaluate and focus operations led to many enhancements to the production, quality assurance and fulfillment processes and the on-farm visitor experience. Due to the ongoing uncertainties of Covid-19 the strategic decision was made to forgo renewing the leases of the Manitou Springs, CO, Bainbridge Island and La Conner, WA product galleries.
2021 – Pelindaba Lavender Celebrates 20 Years!
On June 30th, 2001 the lavender fields, Gatehouse Farm Store and Visitor Center opened to the public. From those early years the public's on-going and ever-growing enthusiasm for lavender means that the summer of 2021 marks 20 years of cultivating lavender, handcrafting lavender products and sharing them with lavender lovers far and wide. Here's to 20 more lavender-filled years!